I’m very nearly jumping up and down that a woman finally made it onto a winning ticket in the US presidential election. It took way too long. We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot for centuries by excluding half the population. And that’s when we only count white people. When we expand our blinders, we see we’ve lopped off another third. And when the the math is mostly complete, we’ve excluded over two thirds of our population from most of the important decision making that takes place on the national stage. It’s been getting incrementally better for a few decades. But not nearly fast enough.
Personally, I’m a low power kinda guy. I have no desire to seek, retain or exert my influence over others. But, of course, I have the privilege of being a white man. So nobody’s really trying to take my power from me either. I’m allowed to live the life I wish to live, pretty much without anyone else’s permission.
It’s not like that for women. Or any other minority group. And I suspect that’s a blind spot for most reasonably decent white Americans. The patriarchy has been relatively non-influential in their lives. At least as a visible, active force. If they really dig down, they can probably see some of the privilege it has provided for them. But, unless they have an actual desire to climb ladders and become leaders, they probably won’t see any negatives in how it affects their lives. They almost certainly won’t see how it helps them if they are ambitious men.
But the white male patriarchy has been holding back the white woman for just as long as it’s been holding back all the other racial and ethnic minorities. I know this because I was married to a white woman who shattered glass ceilings. A woman who was easily as intelligent, and as competent, as any other human being I’ve ever met. A woman who didn’t let any artificial barrier stand in her way. She was ambitious. And she put the fear of god into any man who wasn’t able to compete with her on a level playing field.
And we worked as couple. Until the day she died. It’s taken me over a decade and couple of failed relationships with other ambitious women to understand why we worked so well. My wife never competed with me. Or maybe I never tried to compete with her. God knows, I certainly never won an argument with her. But either way, neither of us ever felt threatened by any aspect of the the other. I was happy in her shadow. I don’t have a need to compete with anyone to find my worth. I never have. My wife seemed to understand that from the beginning. The other women were just never quite able to grasp what looked to them like someone with no ambition. “He has a lot of potential, but he just won’t apply himself” my teachers used to say.
I was never able to grasp ambition. And my inability to come to understand the mind of those ambitious women was as much the reason we didn’t make it long term as their inability to not see me as a lazy man. I spent thirty years in IT and retired at fifty-five. Laziness was never a part of my working life. But neither was ambition. I’m most in the zone when I’m working on a project of my choosing with very flexible time constraints. Competition with others just doesn’t fit anywhere into my life. It’s just a different way of thinking and being. And I shouldn’t have to apologize for that just because it’s not the way our society is currently configured.
Kamala Harris is an ambitious woman. And she’s been in the spotlight for quite a long time. Until today, I knew nothing about her family or her husband. He seems to have led a career of quiet competence. Not all that much unlike myself. I expect a lot of successful couples balance the scales in this way.
Jill Biden spent her life in education. There’s room for ambition in education. But it’s not the primary driver for most people in that field. I suspect that’s why the Biden marriage works so well too. You can reach as far and as high as you desire if you have the support of the ones who love you. They don’t need to be just like you. They only need to be able to set aside the ways in which you’re different to unequivocally support you. I’ve read today, that she intends to continue teaching. That, as well, is a pretty good recipe for a great marriage. Two people staying passionate about their own interests.
I don’t think great marriages are about power couples. I believe great marriages, and great countries, are created when we set aside our preconceived notions. There should be a seat at the table available to everyone with anything to add to the conversation. Race, sex, ethnicity and every other trait that makes one person different from another are the foundations for a formidable new kind of power. The power of an inclusive society. Instead of being afraid of what might be lost, we need to embrace the possibilities of all that could be gained.